Physicians increasingly turning to non-opioid medications |

Physicians increasingly turning to non-opioid medications

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Doctors talk to patients to determine their risks for opioid addiction before prescribing such medications. At Kaiser Permanente, physicians are increasingly seeking alternative forms of medication for their patients.
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Kaiser’s work to reduce opioid use and addiction Kaiser has an opioid refill program for patients who are receiving regular opioid prescriptions from their doctors. This program focuses on the partnership between the physician and the patient to treat chronic pain.  Some of the key elements of the program include: • Assessing the appropriateness of using these medications for treatment and tapering the medications to the lowest effective dose. • It allows an opportunity for the physician and patient to consider all modes of chronic pain control – for example – considering non-opioid medication options, alternative therapies (acupuncture, chiropractic care and physical therapy), and making sure any co-morbid conditions are addressed. • It helps the physicians make sure patients understand the risks of taking these medications and possible long-term effects. • It helps identify those who are at risk for addiction due to their history or other issues, and identify possible medication interactions that could put a patient at risk. • It monitors for diversion and appropriate use of the medications. • It also involves continually addressing a chronic pain plan as new options for treatment could become available. Opioid crisis
  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse What to do If you think someone Is overdosing It may be hard to tell if a person is high or experiencing an overdose. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to treat it like an overdose— you could save a life.
  1. Call 911 immediately.
  2. Administer naloxone, if available.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  5. Stay with him or her until emergency workers arrive.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Opioid overdose deaths in the United States have quadrupled since 2000

Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente

As the United States grapples with an opioid epidemic that has spawned a public health crisis, countless physicians around the country are trying to do their part in eliminating the potential for addiction.

Opioid overdose deaths in the United States have quadrupled since 2000, and drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s estimated that 91 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids, which include illegal heroin as well as legal prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others.

When these opioids interact with receptors in the brain and nervous system, pleasurable effects and pain relief occur, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That pleasure or pain relief acts like a reward for the brain, and those who suffer from addiction will pathologically pursue that reward or pain relief, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

“Physicians need to really assess the need for opioid medications. Not all pain needs opioids for treatment,” said Dr. Jeannine Benson, Chief of Primary Care at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices. “We need to talk with our patients about the risks/benefits of these medications and maintain a relationship that requires continued follow-up. Physicians need to identify at-risk patients and monitor use closely if it is decided that opioid medications are appropriate for treatment.”


Any opioid medication can be abused, and even short-term use can lead to addiction, Benson said. Patients who are most at risk of developing an addiction to these medications include those with current, untreated addiction or a previous history of addiction, patients with a history of drug diversion, patients with a history of untreated mental illness and patients who might display other red flags as noticed by physicians, she said.

“Patients taking opioid medications should be informed of the risks and benefits,” Benson said. “They should be worried about taking them as misuse can lead to very serious consequences.”

It’s up to physicians to communicate about a patient’s plan for pain management. A surgeon treating someone for postoperative pain should be in contact with the primary care provider to make sure everyone is on the same page, Benson said.

“There are resources out there to monitor use as well. For example, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program through the state of Colorado tracks opioid prescriptions, so physicians can look for any opioid prescription that is prescribed in Colorado,” she said. “Other states have similar programs as well. Physicians should also readdress chronic pain with patients regularly.”

 Alternative options

For patients suffering from chronic pain, physicians need to guide them toward lifestyle changes, as well as explore alternative therapies. Patients also need treatment for any mental illnesses, Benson said.

“Physicians also need to set the expectation for appropriate levels of pain control,” she said. “Fulfilling an expectation of complete resolution of chronic pain often leads to over-medication.”

Physicians at Kaiser Permanente try to incorporate alternative medications as much as possible. There are several other types of pain medications that are not dependency-causing, as well as many non-pharmacologic interventions that also can be helpful, said Dr. Carol Venable, Internal Medicine Physician with Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices.

“We have a team approach to pain management, and we make sure every member of our healthcare team is educated on how to help patients achieve successful pain control while minimizing the need for dependency causing medications,” Venable said. “We also spend a lot of time educating patients on risks and appropriate usage, as well as the ultimate goal of tapering off of the opioid medication.”


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